The really nice thing about what I do for a living is that sometimes I can just take the day off and do something nice.
And recently the nice thing I did was jump on a train to Holywood to check out one of its newest restaurants, Noble.
Before you visit Noble, there are three things to know about it. Firstly, owners Saul McConnell and chef Pearson Morris both cut their teeth under Michael Deane which is not a bad thing to have on your CV.
Secondly, the Guardian’s food critic Jay Raynor had a lot of nice things to say about it. I haven’t been able to prove him wrong yet.
And thirdly, it’s one of the few Northern Ireland restaurants with a Bib Gourmand. In case you don’t know what that is, it’s an accolade awarded by Michelin. Instead of their star system which usually means the restaurant is very, very expensive, this award picks the best of restaurants that offer three excellent courses for under £28. In short, if you see that a restaurant has one. Go there.
So we did. I like going to swanky places for lunch. They’re quieter and cheaper and it feels very decadent to be quaffing wine and delicacies under no rush at all in the middle of the day.
Noble is surprisingly out of the way – above a deli on Holywood’s Church Road. it’s also surprisingly small. I don’t think they can fit more than 30 covers at a time, but sure who’s counting.
Anyway. Staff are lovely and you’ll be welcomed like an old friend they haven’t seen in a while. Decor is sparse with some interesting art sprinkled throughout and clearly this changes as the pictures on the walls on their website don’t match the ones that were there on my visit. It’s all very intimate.
But the food. Dear god, the food.
My starter was prawns in garlic butter sauce accompanied by sourdough toast. This is a starter I’ve had plenty of variations of over the years but none like this. The prawns were so fresh and tender they melted in my mouth and the sauce was gorgeous. The real gluttony came when I dipped the bread into the sauce. If you gave me a pot of that stuff and a loaf of bread I would live off it for the rest of my life. Lovely rich sauce. Normally I would share a few bites with my partner. This time I didn’t. It was heaven.
I don’t often order chicken in a restaurant because it can strike me as a boring option. However, this time I had smoked chicken breast with a spelt risotto and leek. And again, it was lovely. Evertyhing tasted fresh and tender and everything gave you the impression that it was enough. You didn’t want more seasoning or more herbs or another sauce. The plate was perfect.
Speaking of seasoning. My partner will rant and rave about restaurants that offer black pepper with your meal. The dish served to you, he has extolled many, many times, should be seasoned perfectly by the chef. To offer black pepper implies that it hasn’t been.
And quite possible, Saul and Pearson overhead him (it’s not hard at his volume…). Because in Noble you will find that the typical table layout doesn’t include salt and pepper at all. According to himself, just the way a restaurant should be.
Please don’t get me wrong. If you ask for condiments they will be brought to you with a smile – no sniffiness involved anywhere. I even asked for vinegar (shocking I know). It was brought to me – and I am totally copying this – in a spray bottle so that my chips cooked in beef dripping where evenly coated. Loved it.
Another thing that my partner, the wine snob (hello darling!) really appreciated were the glasses. It’s hard to underestimate the importance he places on wine glasses so when he saw this little word on the bottom of the glass it didn’t get much better. Reidel wineglasses are expensive but really make a simple glass of wine.
We had dessert too by the way – chocolate brownie with hazelnut ice-cream which was also lovely. I think I’m out of superlatives about the food at this point.
Noble is of course open for dinner but if you’re a Belfast resident like me, there’s something lovely about hopping on the train to the seaside for a day for a long and leisurely lunch.
There’s a lot to be said for simple food, beautifully done and therefore a lot is said about Noble. Treat yourself and pay it a visit.